In the early 1970s, an American of professorial appearance was often presented on Australian t.v. asking ‘Why is it so?’ on all manner of questions. Although the title of professor seems to be worn by all levels of academics in the USA, he looked like a ‘real’ professor; his programs were both interesting and illuminating. Would it not be wonderful were Australian scientists to adopt a comparable role, I thought.
When my offspring were at high school, at parents & teachers nights, I began to ask the science teachers whether they were encouraging their students to ask ‘Why?’ Why do you ask?, responded the first one. That made me wonder: how many of us ask ‘How is it so?,’ seeking explanations about all manner of things affecting us. Not many, I found.
The following extracts from the chapter ‘On the Cosmos’ in ‘Musings at death’s door’ follow on from an 8-year old’s interest in the ‘what’ of the universe; his interest subsequently moved onto the ‘why.’
“I was also too young and too hungry during the Japanese military occupation to appreciate that, had I moved on to considering the ‘why’ of that durability (of the universe), I may then have come to realise that there may be a ‘what’ to which the ‘why’ may not be relevant, or beyond human capabilities. I also did not realise that I was alone in contemplating the Cosmos, my elders being satisfied with our religious practices.
My extended family was born into a ritualistic Shaivite Hindu tradition. This is centred on Shiva, a major manifestation of the one and only god of the Cosmos. … Did we know anything about the metaphysics of Hinduism? Did we ask what Hinduism, with all its diverse explanations and interpretations (because it lacks an authoritative Good Book), says about our place in the Cosmos; and what the Cosmos is all about?
… … I read about the prevailing ‘Stationary State’ theory relating to the structure of the Cosmos. So, modern cosmologists were agreeing with an ancient Hindu perspective of durability in the heavens. Then, however, came the ‘Big Bang’ theory. This presumably was needed to explain what the Hubble Telescope had shown; that all sighted cosmic objects were seemingly moving away from one another. Then came the ‘Big Crunch’ concept, seemingly in recognition that unending expansion did not make sense even in an infinity of space.
Then came the ‘Mini-Bang’ extension, presumably to explain the lack of accumulating empty spaces. That is, if everyone is moving out of a sports stadium through gates open 360 degrees, wouldn’t the stadium become empty eventually? The idea of a ‘Mini-Crunch’ had logically to follow. All that was to fit the Hubble Telescope’s observations within a durable Cosmos and to introduce a hint that invisible matter (or energy) might be filling the spaces resulting from the expansion of visible galaxies.
We were now back to an enduring Cosmos, but with significant changes in structures. It is durability but without stability – an interesting concept. Did not some unknown Hindus postulate that the universe renews itself periodically?”